Country music has many iconic female artists like Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Reba McEntire. But all too often, the country music stations are dominated by men. The gender imbalance in the music genre is so well-known that many media outlets like The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone Country dubbed the problem “Country’s war on women.”
Of course, country did have a time when many female artists were ruling the airwaves. During the 1990s, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and Sara Evans were at the height of their popularity. Still, women had less representation than men did. According to the Guardian, major labels signed 41 new female solo artists in contrast to 67 new male artists. During the mid-2000s, labels signed 43 new female artists and 56 new male artists.
While Obama was President, the numbers of women declined even more. Labels signed just 31 new female artists in contrast to 51 new men.
Radio consultant Keith Hill caused controversy in 2015 when he told Country Aircheck that stations should not play female artists back to back. He compared country music to a salad, calling the male artists of country music the “lettuce,” while the women are the “tomatoes.” He based this off “music tests” over the years and off of over 300 responses from client radio stations.
The comment sparked controversy with powerful female artists like Martina McBride who went on CBS This Morning to address the comments calling them “dismissive.” She also wore a T-shirt that said “tomatoes.” Miranda Lambert wrote on Twitter that Hill’s comments were “bulls—.”
McBride later expressed disappointment that more male artists were not standing up for other female musicians but acknowledged the importance of country music radio in furthering a music career.
The current queen of country music, Carrie Underwood also commented on the disparities admitting to Billboard that “women really do seem to get the short end.”
One reason Underwood believes women struggle with acknowledgement is because they cannot get away with the “partying, beer-drinking, hung-over, truck-driving kind of music,” that guys can sing about. She also admitted that there is more expectation for a woman to “look and sound perfect,” while men can “roll onto the stage in their jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps.”
The lack of female representation in the genre is not unique to country music; there is also a notable lack of women in genres like rap, electronic dance music, and rock.
To solve this problem in the 1990’s, Sarah McLachlan started the Lilith Fair, a traveling music festival and concert tour featuring all females; a country music Lilith Fair would bring more attention to the talented women of country music today. Another option for starting the conversation to equalize the genre is to start filming documentaries interviewing notable artists and songwriters, discussing the problem from the inside.
While there are few women in country compared to men, the few women there are become legends because their perspectives are needed and their talent is appreciated. Let’s continue to hear out these voices and not suppress them.
Do you think country music fails to acknowledge women? Tweet @issabasco.